Judge hears arguments in Sergeant Jasper-BAR case

A Circuit Court judge heard arguments Friday on whether the city’s Board of Architectural Review erred when it rejected a new, similar-sized building for the site last summer.

Attorneys for the city of Charleston and The Beach Co. made their pitches Friday about whether the city’s Board of Architectural Review erred last summer when rejecting a new high-rise that met the city’s zoning — and whether the board is constitutional.

Their legal arguments unfolded in a Charleston County courtroom before Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, who could rule soon.

The hearing was the latest development in the ongoing saga of redeveloping the Sergeant Jasper site.

The Beach Co. emptied out its high-rise apartment early last year but has been stymied in its efforts to redevelop the site.

The company is not banking solely on this lawsuit, however. It also has proposed renovating the existing Jasper building, and it has been talking about a compromise development plan for the site. The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals will meet Tuesday to consider if the BAR can review a plan to surround the existing building with lower, new construction.

Friday’s hearing focused on two issues. First, Nicholson heard arguments on whether the BAR’s creation in 1930 was constitutional.

The second issue involved whether the board acted in an arbitrary way when it rejected the company’s high-rise plan.

City Attorney Frances Cantwell argued for the city, with help from John Massalon, who represented the Charlestowne and Harleston Village neighborhoods, and Rutledge Young, who represented the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society. Attorney Alice Paylor made The Beach Co.’s arguments.

Friday’s hearing came a few months after attempts to mediate the dispute failed.

Last year, the board deferred action on The Beach Co.’s plans for a new 18-story building where its 14-story Sergeant Jasper apartments now sit. The board asked that the proposed height be lowered. When the company returned in June with a lower design — one about the same size as the existing 154-foot-tall building and well within the city’s height limit — the board rejected it.

The company sued, calling the board’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

Friday’s hearing comes a week after the city, neighborhood and preservation groups got their first glimpse of a compromise plan that would allow 375,000 square feet of new building, at least 80 percent of which would be residential.

The tallest buildings would be about 10 stories, and the company’s land west of Barre Street — a plot known as St. Mary’s Field — would become a public park.

However, Beach Co. President and CEO John Darby has said he is unsure if the company has enough time to pursue that plan — which still could face public opposition — and instead might renovate the existing building.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.